By Eniola ONI
With over 195 confirmed cases and 41 deaths since the beginning of the year, Lassa fever has proven to be a virus never to be underestimated or swept under the carpet.
The acute viral hemorrhagic virus caused by Lassa virus, a member of the Arenavirus family of viruses has actually been in Nigeria since 1969, discovered in Lassa in Borno state and has kept recurring and claiming lives ever since. It replicates very rapidly and demonstrates temporal control in replication. Nucleotide study of the genome has shown that the virus has 4 lineages, three of which are present in Nigeria
Lassa fever gets transmitted into human through taking in or using food and household items that have been exposed to fecal elements and urine of infected multimammate(Mastomys natalensis) rats. Even though not all these rats carry this virus, those that do show no special symptoms and so, it’s almost impossible to recognise which rat is infected or not.
Upon entry of the virus into the human system, it infects almost every tissue in the body. It starts with the mucous membrane, intestines, lungs and urinary system, then the vascular system and in severe cases, the liver, spleen and kidneys. It has its way of rendering it’s host’s innate immune system response powerless.
It is important to know that person-to-person infections and laboratory transmissions can occur, which means, you are liable to get the virus when you come in contact with an infected person through their blood, urine, faeces and other bodily secretions in the absence of adequate infection prevention and control measures.
The symptomatic stage of the virus is usually gradual, starting with fever, general weakness and malaise. After a few days, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough and abdominal pain follows. In severe cases, facial swelling, fluid in the lung cavity, bleeding from the mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract and low blood pressure may develop.
Protein may be noted in the urine, shock, seizures, disorientation, tremors may be seen in later stages. Deafness occurs in 25% of victims who do not die from the virus but in some, hearing returns after 1-3 months of deafness. Transient hair loss and gait disturbance may occur during recovery. Death usually occurs within 14 days of onset in fatal cases.
At the moment, there is no vaccine that protects one against Lassa fever. You can however get rid of all rats and their traces in your house. It is said that an antiviral drug called Rivabirin can be administered to cure the virus in case of early detection.